This Sheffield duo grew up making folk-tinged indie pop; the corn syrup fizziness of which was a natural result of being barely out of school. Now a bit older, they certainly look more grown-up — their Nickelodeon prettiness has shifted into a sultry swagger (just check out Rebecca Taylor’s L’Oreal hair-swishing in the video for single “Where I’m Waking”). But they sound it, too, having graduated to a fuller, more adult sound on their second album Paradise, with broader instrumentation and a more ruminative bent.
For example, the sparsely arranged “Never Look Back” recalls the languid sensuality of Hope Sandoval’s solo work, blooming into a chaotic peak only to relax in the final minute. Their most successful song-writing mode before this has been restless, rollicking sing-alongs (and on Paradise they serve up some quality new examples, like the cantering “If We’re Still Alive” and the aforementioned single), but now it’s this balladry that shines. Lyrics still focus on sex and death with a carefree stoicism, and add in some vivid declarations like “won’t be a sports car in three feet of grass.”
Charles Watson’s voice remains relatively high-pitched, even girlish, exploring the chamber folk of Nick Drake on “Horse Jumping” with one of the album’s many timeless vocal hooks. Meanwhile, Taylor heads into deeper, smokier vocal territory and delivers a brilliant performance, her lovelorn voice both composed and cracking on “You, Earth and Ash.” And when their voices sync, as on the loping, strident “Two Cousins,” they hit a compelling, androgynous timbre. The production by Luke Smith (Foals’ Total Life Forever) is live-sounding and perceptive, retaining blurts of feedback and booth noise, and adding a robust, even industrial heft to the guitar lines and drumming.
Full of melodies so solid they feel like barroom standards, as well as evocative and varied playing throughout, this is a major step up for a duo whose talent was already plain. They could feasibly head towards the stadium next, but for now, their blend of the anthemic and intimate is perfectly judged.